Stuart's call was correct

Albert Brandford,

Added 14 October 2012

purelypoliticalcolor

LET ME STATE UPFRONT, lest I’m misunderstood – as sometimes happens here no matter how carefully the words and phrasing are chosen – that while I am in full agreement with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart not to take part in last week’s NATION Talkback, it in no way suggests any disloyalty to the sponsors, with whom I am associated. That out of the way, I must also state that I am familiar with some elements of the political game and the way politicians think. It is clear to me that despite the noble-sounding protestations about putting country first, the overriding consideration of a politician is self-interest. Their every action is prefaced by the often unspoken question: how do I make this work for me? Many and varied have been the criticisms of the Prime Minister for not attending the Nation Publishing Company’s Talkback town hall session entitled The Next General Election – Who Should Run The Affairs Of The Country? last Wednesday night at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. Perhaps the strongest of the strictures against Stuart was that he ran away from a golden opportunity to share his views on national issues with an expectant populace and to hear first-hand the concerns of the people whom he leads and to whom he is accountable. But what is the state of play and how could that have informed Stuart’s decision? The objective reality is that here we have an embattled Prime Minister who is being battered almost daily from within and without the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP) virtually on the eve of what is probably his most important general election in his long career. He finds himself challenged by several Cabinet colleagues and other DLP Members of Parliament over his alleged leadership style, and they all want him to step aside and hand over the leadership of the party to a clearly identified successor in the interests of the party, if not necessarily of the country. Outside of the confines of George Street, Stuart is assailed almost daily by the official Opposition, which while it couldn’t care less what happens to him and the DLP, nevertheless wants him gone because of his Government’s mismanagement of the country’s affairs, particularly of the economy in the face of the most horrendous recession the world has experienced since the 1930s. Now, whatever else might be said or written about Stuart, it should be acknowledged that he is firmly cast in the role of politician, one who has albeit unexpectedly found himself required to lead a fractious political party and manage a country whose people are suffering from its poorly conceived policies and ill-advised responses to the international economic downturn. I have heard what to me seemed to be some of the silliest excuses proffered by senior members of the DLP for the Prime Minister’s non-attendance and the party’s failure to send an alternate representative to the Talkback. However, the only reason that even approached making any sense was the Prime Minister’s prior commitment to delivering the Sixth Distinguished Alumni Lecture at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) the same night. But wait a minute. That was not a pressing matter of state to which the Prime Minister was obligated to attend. I can’t even count the number of times as a reporter I have seen such routine matters delegated by a Prime Minister or other Cabinet ministers and have their prepared remarks read by someone else, including even a permanent secretary. In this case, the Stuart Government could have signalled its commitment to the UWI and by extension the regional integration movement through one of the distinguished Cave Hill alumni serving in his Cabinet who were so prominently positioned in attendance at the very serendipitously named Errol Barrow Centre For Creative Imagination. What then, you might ask, could have persuaded the Prime Minister to defer putting his case for the DLP’s return to office in a few months and defending its record at a prime time event, while interacting with hundreds of potential voters? The politician’s self-interest, I believe. In the face of an obvious absence of a cordial relationship between Stuart and most of the media – with the possible exception of the state-run Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation – it would have been difficult for Stuart to expose himself to questioning in what for him would have been a hostile environment. And what of the absence of another DLP representative since Stuart could not attend? The silliness over the invitation itself notwithstanding, if I were in Stuart’s shoes, it would have been clear to me that I could not authorize one of the contenders for my post from among the so-called Eager Eleven to defend me in such a forum. This close to a general election is a time when despite the protestations about party unity and service to country and party above self, it really comes down to, in the Bajan parlance, every turkey fightin’ fuh he own craw! Stuart could not reasonably expect any of his leadership rivals to go to the Talkback and convincingly offer a defence of his stewardship. Why would he? Which of the alleged signatories to the infamous Eager Eleven letter could he have counted on to put a case for his re-election? In my view, he could only reasonably expect that in a manner, which I must say is not the exclusive preserve of the politician, any case that he might have in seeking the voters’ favour would have been damaged by any suggestions of a united DLP front even as the unstated argument for an alternative leader was being prosecuted. It must be quite clear to all Barbadians by now that Stuart, for all his eloquence and classical oratory, is not an effective communicator (sorry, Carl!). Barbadians were therefore not waiting for a Donville Inniss – one of the lesser leading lights among Stuart’s rivals – who has in recent times emerged as the face and voice of the DLP on all media platforms with a frequency that beggars belief, to tell them that a major weakness of the party, and by extension its leader, has been its communications strategy. “What is clear to me,” Inniss told a DLP St Peter branch meeting two weeks ago, “is that there may be a level of dissatisfaction with the DLP which I believe is born out of our weak communications strategy. “We have to improve on our public relations and communications strategy. We have done well, but saying that is not enough. Barbadians need to know what we have done over the last four years and that better days are coming.” Stuart’s challengers in and outside the DLP can expect him to put his case in his own way and in his own time. The problem is that in the meantime, while he is formulating a strategy to wage a crucial election campaign, the DLP’s image and future fortunes will continue to take a beating. I have said in this space before that the DLP should be placed on suicide watch; maybe now is the time to bring out the rubber suits. • Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email albertbrandford@nationnews.com

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